The Terrors of the Earth is the second episode of the second season of Thames Hannay television series – (or the eighth episode – there were thirteen made all up). I have never really warmed to Hannay. I dearly want to, as I have enjoyed practically every version of The 39 Steps – even the ones that most people screw their noses up at. Hannay is a character I like, but this series seems unsure on how to present the character.
In this episode, Dr. Nils Larssen (Frank Moorey) is a Swedish Scientist working for the British Government. He has been working on a series of preventative vaccines for such diseases as Cholera, Typhus, and Tuberculosis. One afternoon, he returns early to his laboratory, which is being sponsored by Lord Hurst (David Howey), and finds that his junior assistant, Edgar Voce (Jonathan Oliver) has locked the door. After pounding on the door, Voce finally lets his Larssen into the lab. Larssen has sharp eyes and immediately notices that a cupboard is open and inside is a microscope that his Voce has hastily tried to conceal.
Larssen retrieves the microscope and looks down through the eye-piece. On a slide he is disturbed to discover hundreds – soon to be thousands – of micro-organisms rapidly multiplying.Voce is reprimanded, and removed from the lab. Furthermore he is told that from now on his duties will be solely administerial.
Later that day, as a guest of, and accompanied by an old chum, Richard Hannay (Robert Powell) arrives at Lord Hurst’s estate for the evening. He has been invited to become an investor in Larssen’s research. That evening he is also introduced to Larssen’s lovely daughter, Kirsty (Alex Kingston).
Meanwhile, back in London, Count Von Schwabing (Gavin Richards), a German spy – and essentially Hannay’s arch-enemy throughout this series – is being briefed on germ warfare and an operation that is currently underway in Britain. It seems that Voce is actually a German agent, and plans to steal Dr. Larssen’s research. Von Schwabing is required to provide safe passage out of the country.
Voce begins his scheme, by first placing a few drops of a virulent cocktail into Larssen’s drinking water. Overnight, Larssen takes ill, and is spirited away once it is discovered that he is sick. Fearing an outbreak, Lord Hurst has the Doctor taken secretively to a nearby army hospital to be kept in quarantine.
Lord Hurst refuses to allow Kirsty to see her father – believing that she may contribute to an outbreak. Hannay, unaware of the true facts, believing that it is only chivalrous, decides to assist Kirsty in finding her father. And after a bit of derring-do, they do find him, although the incident does land Hannay in trouble with the authorities once again.
Meanwhile Voce has used the distraction to make his getaway with a lethal canister of bacteria – sort of a cocktail of all the worst diseases known to man. Naturally, Hannay’s investigations into Larssen’s illness and confinement, put him on a collision course with his nemesis Von Schwabing – and including the almost pre-requisite set-piece where Hannay is captured and locked away in a strange location from which he has to escape. In this instance that strange location happens to be in a room at the top of a wind mill.
All-in-all, this is a sprightly little episode in the Hannay series. Like all the episodes it still suffers from budget constraints. Put simply, Richard Hannay is a man of adventure, and this series should be an adventure series, but at times plays out like a thinking man’s show. Now I have nothing against a good cerebral drama, but if you a making such a show, then you’d invest it with great dialogue and a thoughtful plot. Hannay seems to straddle a line between being a thoughtful drama and a knockabout adventure series, and as such never quite succeeds at being either. Still, for spy fans, this is one of the best episodes of the series.